Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Abbas - Rewriting Middle East History

"Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to believe it."
Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels

ABBAS: In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered
in the affirmative.

FACT:�SIXTY-FOUR years ago, just before Israel's War of Independence in 1948, Palestinian Arabs launched a series of riots, pillaging, and bloodletting. This was followed by the invasion into Jewish Palestine of seven Arab armies
from neighboring states attempting to prevent by force the establishment of
a Jewish state in accordance with UN Resolution 181, known also as the 1947
Partition Plan. The Arab nations denounced the plan on the General Assembly
floor and voted as a bloc against Resolution 181 promising to defy its implementation
by force. To resuscitate Resolution 181 more than six decades after Palestinian Arabs
rejected it "as if nothing had happened" are a baseless ploy designed to use
Resolution 181 as leverage to bring about a greater Israeli withdrawal from
parts of western Palestine and to gain a broader base from which to continue
to attack Israel with even less defendable borders.

Ironically, in Article 19 of the PLO CHARTER, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the
Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] contradict himself when he makes it
clear - that the UN Partition Plan is "illegal."
"Article 19: The Partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the
state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time ..."

"Article 20: The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything
that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical
or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of
history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being
a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single
nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which
they belong."

ABBAS: key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian
refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.

FACT: Resolution 194, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1948,
addressed a host of issues, but only one paragraph out of 15 dealt with refugees
created by the conflict. Resolution 194 attempted to create the tools required
to reach a truce in the region. It established a conciliation commission with
representatives from the United States, France and Turkey to replace the UN
mediator. The commission was charged with achieving "a final settlement of
all questions between ... governments and authorities concerned." The Resolution's
"refugee clause" is not a standalone item, as the Arabs would have us think,
nor does it pertain specifically to Palestinian Arab refugees.

Of the 15 paragraphs, the first six sections addressed ways to achieve a truce;
the next four paragraphs addressed the ways that Jerusalem and surrounding
villages and towns should be demilitarized, and how an international zone or
jurisdiction would be created in and around Jerusalem. The resolution also
called on all parties to protect and allow free access to holy places, including religious buildings.

One paragraph has drawn the most attention: Paragraph 11, which alone addressed
the issue of refugees and compensation for those whose property was lost or
damaged. Contrary to Arab claims, it did not guarantee a Right of Return and
certainly did not guarantee an unconditional Right of Return - that is the
right of Palestinian Arab refugees to return to Israel. Nor did it specifically
mention Arab refugees, thereby indicating that the resolution was aimed at
all refugees, both Jewish and Arab. Instead, Resolution 194 recommended that
refugees be allowed to return to their homeland if they met two important conditions:

1. That they be willing to live in peace with their neighbors
2. That the return takes place "at the earliest practicable date"

The resolution also recommended that for those who did not wish to return,
"Compensation should be paid for the property ... and for loss of or damage
to property" by the "governments or authorities responsible."

Although Arab leaders point to Resolution 194 as proof that Arab refugees have
a right to returnor be compensated, it is important to note that the Arab States:
Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen voted against Resolution
194. Israel is not even mentioned in the resolution. The fact that plural wording
also is used - "governments or authorities" - suggests that, contrary to Arab
claims, the burden of compensation does not fall solely upon one side of the
conflict. Because seven Arab armies invaded Israel, Israel was not responsible
for creating the refugee problem. When hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews,
under threat of death, attack and other forms of persecution, were forced to
flee Arab communities, the State of Israel absorbed the overwhelming majority
of them into the then-fledgling nation.

ABBAS: Palestine "our historic homeland"

FACT: What Abbas wants the world to forget is the content of the "Mandate for
Palestine," an historical League of Nations document that laid down the Jewish
legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, the area between the Jordan
River and the Mediterranean Sea, an entitlement unaltered in international

The "Mandate for Palestine" was not a naive vision briefly embraced by the
international community. Fifty-one member countries-the entire League of Nations-unanimously declared on July 24, 1922:

"Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish
people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national
home in that country."

It is important to point out that political rights to self-determination as
a polity for Arabs were guaranteed by the same League of Nations in four other
mandates-in Lebanon and Syria [The French Mandate], Iraq, and later Trans-Jordan
[The British Mandate].

Any attempt to negate the Jewish people's right to Palestine-Eretz-Israel,
and to deny them access and control in the area designated for the Jewish people
by the League of Nations is a serious infringement of international law.

ABBAS: Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs

FACT: The Arab League's April 10, 1948 decision to invade Jewish Palestine
on May 14 to "save Palestine," as the British Mandate ended, marked a watershed
event, for it changed the rules of the conflict. Accordingly, Israel bears
no moral responsibility for deliberately banishing Palestinian Arabs in order
to "consolidate defense arrangements" in strategic areas, as the Jewish people
organized to battle seven well-equipped and well-trained aggressor armies.
With the pending invasion following Israel's declaration of independence, it
is no exaggeration to say the new Jewish state's very existence hung in the

The Palestinians were responsible for escalating the war - a move that cost
the Jews thousands of lives and Palestinians their homes. By their own behavior,
Palestinians assumed the role of belligerents in the conflict, invalidating
any claim to be hapless victims. Explains scholar Benny Morris:

"One of the characteristics of the Palestinian national movement has been the
Palestinians' view of themselves as perpetual victims of others: Ottoman Turks,
British officials, Zionists, Americans - and never to appreciate that they
are, at least in large part, victims of their own mistakes and iniquities."

ABBAS: Our territory is recognized as the lands framed by the 1967 border,
though it is occupied by Israel.

FACT: Political figures and international jurists have discussed the existence
of "permissible" or "legal occupations." In a seminal article on this question,
entitled What Weight to Conquest Professor, Judge Schwebel, a former president
of the International Court of Justice, wrote:

"A state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may
seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are
necessary to its self-defense. ... Where the prior holder of territory had
seized that territory unlawfully [Jordan], the state which subsequently takes
that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior
holder, a better title.

"As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and
her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel
has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the
whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt." (emphasis added)

Response to Abbas editorial, May 17, 2011, at The NY Times

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Mahmoud Abbas and the persistence of Palestinian mythology

How depressing that, even as the plates are shifting in the Middle East, the PA president is still peddling a wornout narrative

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, signed a reconciliation agreement earlier this month. Photograph: EPA

In the week that President Obama makes a major new statement on US policy towards the Middle East, and prepares to meet Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the New York Times provided Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas with a platform to unveil his new strategy. In his 17 May op-ed article in the Times, "The Long Overdue Palestinian State", Abbas laid out his plan to request international recognition of the "State of Palestine" along the Green Line that is commonly referred to as the pre-June 1967 border – that is, to achieve statehood without negotiating with Israel.

Thus, it is his recipe to circumvent negotiations, form a state and retake Jerusalem, without grappling with Palestinian mythology or compromising in any way. In laying out the ingredients of his plan, Abbas reveals that, at the core, the Palestinian struggle is not actually about borders but about Israel's existence. It is the quest for a Palestinian sense of justice at the expense of a negotiated end to the conflict.

In order to make his case, Abbas needed to disguise the historical record for it to resonate with western audiences. Take, for example, his narrative of Israel's independence, which he and most Palestinians today refer to as al-Nakba, the catastrophe. He explains that when the question of Palestinian statehood last took centre stage at the United Nations general assembly, it was to vote on whether the Palestinian homeland should be partitioned into two states. Abbas writes:

"In November 1947, the general assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued."

Cleverly, Abbas has removed Palestinians from the stage of responsible actors. According to him, they played no role whatsoever – they were merely the victims of Israeli actions. Of course, the inconvenient truth is that Israel accepted the partition plan while the Palestinians and Arab states rejected it and, instead, launched a war against the nascent state of Israel. The Palestinian refugee problem – whose fate is central to Abbas's perception of justice – is a direct result of that war.

His careful wording, "War and further expulsions ensued," is remarkably passive. Egypt, Jordan and Syria forced the 1967 war upon Israel, while the former two occupied what is today called the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But Palestinians were not then clamouring for an independent state alongside Israel or freedom from Arab occupation during the two decades between 1948 and 1967. Instead, in the wake of the 1967 war, the eight Arab heads of state released the Khartoum resolutions that formally declared: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it…" In fact, two more decades would pass before the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) would recognise, at least rhetorically, Israel's right to exist (but not as a Jewish state), renounce terrorism and accept UN security council resolution 242. Indeed, it took 40 years after Israel's creation for the PLO to make the decision to seek negotiations with Israel, as opposed to openly seeking its destruction. But this game of words was merely a change in tactics; the goal remained the same.

To pick up on Abbas's selective historical prism: further rejections ensued. Even Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan realised it was time to say yes to a Palestinian state when he met with Yasser Arafat a few hours before the Palestinian leader's Oval Office meeting with President Clinton on 2 January 2001. That meeting in the White House was designed for Arafat to either accept or reject the now famous Clinton Parameters that contained the contours of a final settlement. Prince Bandar asked Arafat (pdf):

"Since 1948, every time we've had something on the table we say no. Then we say yes. When we say yes, it's not on the table anymore. Then we have to deal with something less. Isn't it about time we said yes?"

But again, Arafat said no. This is not the Palestinian narrative that Abbas would like to the world to hear because it would mean that as active actors in their struggle either against Israel or for statehood, Palestinians themselves bear much responsibility for their plight.

Historical distortions aside, the most telling aspect of Abbas's op-ed in the New York Times is his concentration on the Palestinian refugee issue. Indeed, securing the unlimited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel remains a Palestinian strategic principle, not a negotiating tactic. Abbas begins his article with the story of his expulsion from Safed during the 1948 war. While employing the third person narrative, he explains, "Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their homeland, they were denied that most basic human right." Yet Safed is in pre-1967 Israel and not a part of the territory he currently demands for a Palestinian state. Instead, he is demanding a so-called right of return of an estimated 4.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel, a country with just over 7 million people, 20% of whom are Arabs. In essence, the "moderate" leader of the Palestinian National Authority isn't just asking the international community for a Palestinian state, he is asking for the Israeli state to boot.

If this plan sounds familiar, that is because it is the phased approach to Israel's destruction that is currently and publicly endorsed by Hamas. But gaining statehood is not enough for Abbas or his Fatah organisation either. He explains that UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, "would pave the way for the internationalisation of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice." So, beyond gaining statehood and strangling Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees, the Abbas plan is then to sue Israel and "pursue claims" in any international forum that will listen. Such motives do not bespeak the "peace-loving nation" that would be a Palestinian state.

Given both Fatah's and Hamas's long-term goal vis-à-vis Israel, it is no wonder they recently formed a unity government. The fact is that the main difference today between Fatah and Hamas is over the questions of what role Islam should play and the extent to which terrorist bombings, missile attacks and kidnappings should play a part in realising their dream of statehood. And while Abbas may want the US and the west to believe he is serious when he claims, "Negotiations remain our first option," the truth is that it is Abbas himself who walked away from the negotiating table and who continues to refuse to negotiate with Israel.

Abbas's unilateral plan makes crystal clear that, for the PA, the issue today is not 1967 and a question of borders, but rather 1948 and Israel's existence. After all, according to the Palestinian narrative as conveyed by Abbas, it is Israel's existence that is the Palestinian nakba, or catastrophe, not the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that began in 1967.

If the Palestinians had accepted the November 1947 UN general assembly partition plan, they could be celebrating their 63rd year of independence alongside Israel. There would have been no war and no Palestinian refugees. But that ship has sailed. Contrary to Abbas's plan, today the only pathway forward is at the negotiating table with Israel. And those negotiations are doomed to fail until Palestinian leaders compromise with their own mythology and accept a solution that provides for both a Palestinian Arab state and Israeli Jewish state living side by side in peace.

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